Before you start writing a proposal

The ultimate goal is to identify a need on the part of the audience and outline ways in which the writer/proposing group can satisfy this need.

As with any writing task, it’s important before you start writing to become familiar with the type of text you are going to write (sometimes also referred to as a genre). Here, we are concerned with the proposal. At Chalmers, and later in your professional life, you may write varying types of proposals depending on the context (assignment, study application, funding request). Typically, you will come across two main types: the business version and the academic/research one, but you may write a combination of the two.

Whichever form of proposal you write, the overriding purpose will involve persuading the reader(s) to do something (such a text tends to be used as a strategic document in a decision-making process). In order to do this, a clear background, tangible arguments and constructive advice for a certain approach or action need to be provided.

”Sell it!”

In business, industry, government and academia, proposals are an everyday necessity. Compared to many other types of writing, proposals require you to use all your skills of persuasion  in other words, to do a ”selling job”. This piece of sales writing is communication designed to obtain work, funding, or a ”go-ahead” on a project. Its ultimate goal is to identify a need on the part of the audience and outline ways in which the writer/proposing group can satisfy this need. A proposal has to convince the audience that the writer can ”deliver the goods” and that the audience needs these ”goods”.

Invite readership and analyse your audience

It is important to remember that proposals might be rejected. This means that first impressions are important; the proposal must ”feel good” and invite readership – the reader must want to go beyond the first sentence of the introduction. Therefore, use the introduction to quickly orient the reader to the aims of the document. In addition, make sure that the proposal is easy to read and understand. This can be achieved by thinking about how to do the following:

  • Analyse your audience
  • Use a simple format
  • Make sure that the final copy is clear and legible, e.g. has an attractive layout
  • Keep paragraphs and sentences reasonably short
  • Use headings
  • Use the active voice where possible

Taking the time to plan your document, to think about your reader’s or readers’ needs and to write a formal yet accessible proposal can help convince any possible sceptics or negative parties. Therefore, when analysing your audience, try to answer these questions:

  1. Who are the readers, e.g. laymen, experts, bureaucrats, managers, students?
  2. What do they know about the subject?
  3. What do they need to know?
  4. What will they do with the information?

You are trying to persuade someone to do something, so:

  • know your audience,
  • decide on the information required,
  • if it helps, think in ’selling’ terms.